How to be Good Around People Whom You Badly Want to Impress

I would love to be my dorky self around Tom Hanks.

I would love to be my dorky self around Tom Hanks.

I’m not going to lie to you. This is tough.You are at some kind of gathering and your all-time hero walks in. You are probably not going to have another opportunity in your lifetime to shake their hand and tell them that they are cool. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even decide that you are just as cool as you think they are and they’ll want to spend all kinds of time with you doing best-friend-type things.

Or not.

Chances are good that you are going to say or do something awkward and regret it for the rest of forever.

So how do you avoid that?

Step One: Ask yourself if you really need to do this.

Do you really need to meet them in person? Are you willing to risk having your pleasant illusions shattered by the possible reality that the person with whom you are enamored is just another human (and possibly a jerk)?

Step Two: Consider for a moment the amount of crazy people your hero has to deal with all the time.

Seriously, if they are even semi-famous, they encounter weirdos at least 23 hours per day. You know the people that I’m talking about. They are the ones asking for autographs on body parts and who want to parent a child will your hero’s DNA. Don’t be that person.

Step Three: Introduce yourself.

This doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be something like this: “Hello. Are you [insert your hero’s name here]? I’m [insert your name here] and I just wanted to say hi.”

Step Four: Don’t let on too much.

Yes, you probably know everything there is to know about this person. You’ve read their blog. Heck, maybe you even wrote the Wikipedia page for them. But it is super creepy when you casually talk about the intimate routines of someone else’s life whom you are just now meeting in person for the first time. They don’t know you at all, so don’t act like you know them too well. Avoiding this rule is your best bet to getting their autograph on a restraining order against you.

If you have a question for them, screen yourself to make sure that your question wouldn’t sound strange coming out of a stranger’s mouth to you. “Are you enjoying our city?” is acceptable. “Where are you sleeping tonight?” is not.

Step Five: Say thank you.

It’s probable that this person makes more money per minute than you do per week, and you’ve just taken up some of their valuable time. Say thank you to them.

Step Six: Walk away.

Don’t overstay your welcome. Brevity is the key to success. Leave on a high note before any of your craziness leaks out.

And that’s it. Follow these steps and you will probably have a good memory about your time meeting your hero. Unless your hero is a jerk, and then you should probably pick a different hero anyway.

Good luck!

10 Ways to Avoid Friends & Family This Holiday Season

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and obligatory gatherings of distant relatives and former friends. Yes, the holidays are upon us.

So what do you do when you get invited to a holiday gathering that it would please you to avoid? Here are ten ideas:

  1. Get a seasonal job that requires you to work all the time. The upside of this plan is that you get a few extra dollars to spend on Lego sets for yourself. The downside is that you’ll be working so much, you won’t have time to assemble said Lego sets. Also, there are very few places that require you to work on Christmas. Consider becoming a doctor or a gas station attendant.
  2. Have a baby. Seriously, you can blame anything on the fact that you are sleep-deprived or concerned for the newborn’s welfare and no one can question you. Of course, this one would have required a bit of planning in order to time it right.
  3. Claim that you already have a holiday gathering happening that day. As long as you keep your social circles separate, no one will find out the truth. But be sure to maintain radio silence during the event in question, lest it come to light that you never had plans in the first place.
  4. Move far away from everyone you know or like. Clean and simple.
  5. Have an embarrassing injury that lands you in the hospital during the duration of the gathering. The injury should be the type where potential visitors will understand that you’d rather have a bit of privacy than surprise guests.
  6. Change your religion frequently. If no one can remember which holidays you celebrate, they’ll avoid inviting you so as not to offend you. And if they still invite you, just claim that you don’t celebrate that one.
  7. Witness a crime. If you can make it into the Witness Protection Program, you are obligated by law to have no contact with family or friends.
  8. Western Michigan University Distinguished Alumni and actor Tim Allen was only selling drugs to avoid a holiday party. Probably.

    Western Michigan University Distinguished Alumni and actor Tim Allen was only selling drugs to avoid a holiday party. Probably.

    Commit a crime. Why stand around waiting for someone to commit a crime when you can take the matter into your own hands? Jail is just as good a reason for missing awkward parties as the Witness Protection Program.

  9. Develop very specific allergies. “Are there going to be peanuts or people who might have touched a dog, cat, or chinchilla at this party? Oh, there are? Darn! If I come, I could die. I wouldn’t want that on your conscience.”
  10. Abandon personal hygiene. No one is going to invite you to a party if you smell like Death’s pet skunk. Plus you’ll save time and money by not bathing. Easy!

And there you have it. Merry Christmas!

Unless you recently changed your religion. In which case, Happy Whatever!

The Art of Stay-cationing

My wife and I are on vacation this week. We aren’t camping, or traveling, or anything like that. We are, in fact, staying home. In common parlance, we are having a “stay-cation”.

There is an art to the stay-cation. The art is in the balance. If you work the entire time, you do not feel like you are on vacation at all. If you try to spend all of your time outside of the home, you might as well have gone on an actual vacation. And if you fill every day with day trips, you will run out of resources quicker than you can say “I just spent too much at the zoo!”

Thankfully, my wife and I are great balances for each other. We began the week by writing a list. Okay, to be honest, my wife started the list, because that’s the type of person that she is. She filled the list with all of the projects around the house that we have been putting off for lack of time. She wrote down things like scrubbing the floorboards and power mopping the hardwood, renting a carpet cleaner and fixing our bathroom sink drain, and so on. Good things all, but fun? Not so much.

grand_rapids_childrens_museumBut that’s okay, because we have fun planned in as well. We are going to story time at the library, taking the girls to the carousel at the mall, visiting the children’s museum downtown, and celebrating eight years of marriage with dinner and a movie (in an actual theater!).

The to-do list is a balanced approach of the things that need to be done with the things we want to do, and the really beautiful thing is that no matter what category (fun vs. work) an activity falls into, we will be happier once that activity is completed.

Sometimes, I have trouble seeing the happy part of doing back-breaking labor. That’s when I am happiest that my wife sees it there for me. And sometimes, my wife has trouble seeing an activity as worth the money it costs to do, which is where I step in and encourage us to do it anyway.

Yes, the stay-cation is an art, but once learned, can be applied to all areas of life. Even after you return to work.

Answer: How do we get non-writers to read?

I’m writing this post in response to the one that I re-blogged yesterday from Eric Wyatt. Eric noticed that the majority of the readers and commentators on his blog were other writers who were hoping to be published. He asked how we can attract the readers who we hope will (when we are published) buy our books.

These are a few of the things that I came up with that contribute to the writers-reading-writers phenomena.

Content dictates readership. If we are writers hoping to be published, there is a good chance that we are writing about being writers hoping to be published. We are probably writing things like tips for writers, the writer’s experience, how to be a better writer, how to revise manuscripts, and so on. Who cares most about these things? Writers.

We are trying to build our platform, but we are misguided in our approach. We are told (often by other blogging writers) that it is important to have a platform in order to get published. This is true. Nowadays, it is a key selling point to a publisher if we have thousands of followers on our blog. We are trying our hardest to show to publishers that we know what we are doing when it comes to writing, that we can put content out there and that we are experts in our field. But as a writing hoping to publish fiction, is it really going to do me a lot of good writing about writing when I am hoping to write books of imaginative fantasy?

We are hoping to attract hungry readers with cookbooks instead of a tasty meal.

It is the nature of the blogging beast. We are writing on a medium designed for writers. If the readers we want to attract were on WordPress, they are most likely writers as well. Writers read blogs. Readers read published books. There is a disconnect for most writers between the two.

So what do we do about that?

Maybe we should take a look at what our favorite authors are blogging about. What is it that their fans want from them? Maybe we should write more of that. I looked up a few popular authors, and of the ones who blog, they blog about their books, they blog snippets and samples to whet our appetites, they blog about how they came up with certain characters and about how inspires them.

Show, don’t tell. We are often told this advice about becoming a better writer, but the same can be true about the content of our blogs. If we want to attract people to our writing, we should be showing more of our writing.

I know, I know. If we publish it on our blogs, publishers won’t pay for it.

Good point. So lets show our writing abilities by other means, without giving away the whole thing. Can you publish a synopsis, a character profile, a setting, a sample chapter or scene? Ask any marketing person today and they will tell you that giving things away sells products. It may be counterintuitive, but it is true.

Perhaps you can show your writing talent without even mentioning your current work in progress. There are a number of good blogs that offer writing prompts for you to hone your skill and show your writing prowess. One of my favorites is Julia’s Place and the Weekly 100 Word Challenge, but there are others out there as well. Just look on Duotrope for opportunities and prompts for publication.

Review books. If you write within a specific genre, read and publish reviews of books in the same genre. If you want readers to find your things, they are going to be searching for reviews of these books. If you write a good review, they are going to click around your blog to find out what else you have reviewed/written. Maybe they’ll stumble across a sample of your writing and bookmark your blog.

Write with a buffer. I find that when I am writing last-minute, I tend to write less polished posts that are about whatever is on my mind at the time. Often, this means that I write about writing, which only other writers tend to care about. I am not intentional about what I want readers to see. It just goes straight from my head to the computer screen and then on to the world at large.

By writing ahead and giving myself some time to ask myself if my post is something that a reader (not just writers) would want to see. This is also helpful in giving myself a chance to be sick or lazy if I need a day or two away from the blog (or if I need a day or two to work solely on my novel).

Publish where the readers are. If you aren’t publishing your blog to your Facebook account or your twitter feed or your [insert whatever the next popular social media fad is here], then you are missing out on putting content in front of people who may be interested. Of course, this presupposes that you have content that they want to see.

Maybe you are already publishing to these places, but you are only being read by family and friends. If you want to use a gimmick to get readers to your blog, try a giveaway. Provide an incentive for your family and friends to share your posts with their family and friends. If your incentive is good enough (or if your writing is good enough), this could just start that perfect word-of-mouth campaign that we are all after.

Those are my thoughts.

I may even start using them to help the content of my blog become something that readers will want to read. We’ll have to see.

A Quick Guide to Surviving the First Few Minutes of a Zombie Apocalypse

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer

The first few minutes of any disaster are usually the most critical. In a fire, you need an escape plan. If a tornado is coming, you need to get to a place of safety. And if a zombie is lurching through your front door, you need to be prepared.One day a mom called her college-age son.

“Hello,” he said.

“Do you have anything within reach that could kill a zombie?” asked his mother.

“Um,” he said looking around at his desk, computer, and piles of clothes. “No.”

“You’re dead,” said his mother, and she hung up.

I don’t remember where I first heard that story, but it made a profound impact on me. Every now and again, I look at what is around me and I ask myself the question that the mother asked, “Do I have anything within reach that could kill a zombie?”

For those of you who just stumbled across my blog without any pop culture references to draw from, a zombie is a reanimated corpse with superhuman strength.

There are two main types of zombies: Slow zombies – the ones that stumble blindly forward saying “Braaaaaiiiins” and grunting; and Fast Zombies – the ones that still enough intelligence to solve basic problems and set traps for the unwary.

There are myriad ways to create zombies (viral mutations, summons from a witch doctor, etc.) but only a few ways to kill them, all of which have to do with rendering the zombie’s brain incapacitated.

The most traditional way to deal with a zombie is by cutting off its head. I happen to own a viking sword replica, so I’m pretty well set here. Also, the sword is good for would-be future boyfriends of my daughters, and I think sharpening the blade is more intimidating than the “father polishing a gun” routine.

If you do have a firearm, you can shoot a zombie in the head, so long as the damage is sufficient to destroy the brain. When shooting then, it is best to “double tap” or shoot the head twice to ensure success.

If you have a few minutes and enough rage, you can also use blunt instruments like baseball bats and tire irons and chair legs and so on. The problem here is speed. Can you render the zombie’s brain useless before the zombie returns the favor? Remember, they have superhuman strength.

I’m guessing acid would be successful as well, but I don’t remember seeing any movies where this has been the main weapon for dispatching the undead. Also, most pop music.

So the first step to preparedness is having a weapon within reach at all times. After that, you need the other basics of Maslow’s hierarchy. But in the first few minutes, make sure you have a weapon.

Next, try to make it to one of these properties. Good luck.

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Nov. 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
So it goes.

I am in love with the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. Let that be my disclaimer.

I first read Slaughterhouse-Five for an Ethics & Literature class offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University. Having never heard of Vonnegut before, I had no idea what I was in for. My previous reading interests consisted of The Lord of the Rings and spy novels.

Slaughterhouse-Five was my gateway drug to harder concepts like war, morality, pain, and patriotism.

I once suggested Slaughterhouse-Five to a friend who had never read Vonnegut. He read it, but didn’t think as much of it as I. He told me that he found the book a bit hopeless, depressing. I couldn’t disagree with that. Vonnegut wrote from his experience as a World War II prisoner-of-war who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden. He prefaces the book with a promise to a war buddy’s wife that he wouldn’t glorify the war. He lived up to that promise.

If you haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five, read it. I can’t promise that it will be an uplifting book, but it is excellently written and shows an author who put himself onto the pages, sometimes literally, in a way that will stick with you. Plus, it was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, so I’m not alone in my convictions.

I’m not going to bother with an in-depth synopsis of the book, because I fully expect each of you to read it for yourself, but if you need something to go on for the rest of this post, here’s the one-sentence version for you: We follow the out-of-order life of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII POW who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden (sound familiar?) and was abducted by aliens who taught him the true nature of time, free will, and acceptance; an anti-war novel.

Okay then.

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five

1. Form & Function | When you first start reading Slaughterhouse, you notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. Rather, it is broken up into little moments. It isn’t until the fifth chapter that you read this:

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out–in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message–describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments when seen all at one time.”

Vonnegut wrote in the style of the Tralfamadorians, a device that he invented and integrated in order that we might receive something beautiful when seen altogether. There is no real suspense, as he tells you in the first chapter exactly how the book is going to end. It’s certainly a different approach to novel.

2. Author-Driven Narrative | Usually, books fall into one of two categories as far as what is driving the narrative: plot or character. Vonnegut, I would argue, does neither. In plot-driven narratives, the action of the story is what draws the reader in and keeps them reading. In character-driven narratives, the plot comes second to the development of the characters, creating realistic, fleshed-out characters that readers love. Most novels try to balance these two things. Slaughterhouse-Five breaks up the plot into non-chronological order, and we get to the know the characters over the course of the novel, but the reason we keep turning the page is because the author has laid out the book in a very specific way. We follow the author’s lead more than the plot or the character.

3. Writing from Experience | Vonnegut was there. In fact, he even makes a few appearances in the book. This is my favorite, but its a little graphic, so feel free to skip it if you are faint of heart or stomach:

Billy looked inside the latrine. The wailing was coming from in there. The place was crammed with Americans who had taken their pants down. The welcome feast had made them as sick as volcanoes. The buckets were full or had been kicked over.

An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said, “There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains.

That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.

The first chapter opens with a discussion between Vonnegut and a buddy from the war. The last chapter shows them both returning to Dresden in real life.

While I wouldn’t recommend this device for every novel, it is one of my favorite things about Vonnegut’s books. His platform, his authority comes from his experience. He just can’t stay out of his own books. Either he inserts himself by name, or he uses his alter-ego, Kilgore Trout. In Slaughterhouse, he does both.

4. Symbolism | Slaughterhouse-Five is rich with symbolism, but rather than point out every symbol, I’ll just talk about one.

Vonnegut could have named his character anything, but he chose the last name of Pilgrim. Pilgrims are travelers. Billy happens to be a traveler through time. But the symbolism goes deeper.

Back in the days when people only owned two books, they had a Bible and a copy of John Bunyon’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim’s Progress shows a man on the road to salvation who undergoes trial and hardship in order to get to the Celestial city. It is one of the earliest forms of allegory to describe the Christian life and the path to Heaven.

Vonnegut’s name choice puts his own Pilgrim in direct contrast to Bunyon’s, as Billy Pilgrim undergoes trial and hardship and is rewarded, not with Heaven, but with nothingness.

Billy is speaking before a capacity audience in a baseball park, which is covered by a geodesic dome. The flag of the country is behind him. It is a Hereford bull on a field of green. Billy predicts his own death within an hour. He laughs about it, invites the crowd to laugh with him. “It is high time I was dead,” he says. “Many years ago,” he said, “a certain man promised to have me killed. He is an old man now, living not far from here. He has read all the publicity associated with my appearance in your fair city. He is insane. Tonight he will keep his promise.”

There are protests from the crowd.

Billy Pilgrim rebukes them. “If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you have not understood a word I’ve said.” Now he closes his speech as he closes every speech–with these words: “Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.”

There are police around him as he leaves the stage. They are there to protect him from the crush of popularity. No threats on his life have been made since 1945. The police offer to stay with him. They are floridly willing to stand in a circle around him all night, with their zap guns drawn.

“No, no,” says Billy serenely. “It is time for you to go home to your wives and children, and it is time for me to be dead for a little while–and then live again.” At that moment, Billy’s high forehead is in the cross-hairs of a high-powered laser gun. It is aimed at him from the darkened press box. In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead. So it goes.

So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.

Vonnegut’s worldview appears through his symbolic name choice, drawing contrast and refuting the Christian faith in favor of Humanism. So it goes.

Using symbolism is an effective tool to portray complex thoughts or to allow a deeper interpretation of your work.

If you haven’t read it yet, read the book with symbolism in mind and see what you come up with. If you have read it, read it again.

And as always, thanks for reading my blog.

Duotrope, the Flashing Cop: A Hero’s Journey -or- Links

This week, I’ve been away from my keyboard more than I’d usually like. My work has stepped up the remodeling plan (demolition is coming next week or the week after) so we’ve all been coming in early or staying late in order to get things moved (roughly 80,000 used books, 90% of our music department, 90% of our gifts department, and our shipping/receiving department) before the bulldozers knock off the front half of our building. Anyway, as a result, I took one night and set up the blogs for this past week to post automatically.

That all being said, this week’s links are all good. I didn’t have as much time to poke around other people’s blogs, so I went with links that I am familiar with already. Here are some cool places online to check out:

Axe Cop – This is web-comic about a cop with an axe. The thing that makes this site great is the fact that all the stories are written by a 5 year old (although that was when the comic started, now he’s 7) and then drawn by his 30-something year old brother. Why is this great? Because many of us have forgotten how a child thinks, and if you want to relate, either as a parent or a writer or both, it’s a wonderful way to climb into the mind of a child for a few minutes.

Duotrope: This is a site for writers to find homes for things that they’ve written. You can do searches and submissions and contests and more. It’s quite a resource. As for the name, this is from the site:

“Duotrope” is a word we made up. Since “duo” is the Latin root for “two” and “trope” is from the Greek “to turn,” we think of a duotrope as two objects spinning in orbit around each other, such as a writer and an editor. That’s just our concept of what a “duotrope” is. Feel free to come up with your own. (“Duotrope” is the registered trademark of Duotrope, LLC.)

The Hero’s Journey: If you have ever wondered why some stories seem to get written over and over, there’s a reason. Think of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and even the story of Moses from the Bible. Joseph Campbell came up with something that he called Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey. If you are writing a tale of epic proportions and need an idea of where you are going, or if you are a reader and you’d like to be a better critical thinker while working through that book on your nightstand, check it out. Also, I’m not the only one to write about this theme, here’s a bonus link to another blog on the same topic.

10 Flash Fiction Writing Tips: This week, I’ve been a bit focused on flash fiction. If you want to try your hand at writing ridiculously short stories, here are some things to keep in mind. I should probably start using this advice myself.

So, there you go. Just when you thought you were tired of the internet, I give you all these reasons to go back online. Oh, one last plug for my contest and we’ll be all set. Check out yesterday’s post for full details, but it’d be great to get some entries.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!As far as a report card for this week, I made sure that something posted on the blog every day, so that’s good, but I didn’t spend everyday writing for it, so less good. I went out writing twice and last night I added about 700 words to my manuscript. I’ll give myself a solid B.

Okay, that’s it, now have a nice weekend.

Lego Inspiration for Writers

Lego, if you are reading this, please don't stop my subscription just because I am not a child. Thanks.I got my bi-monthly issue of Lego Club Magazine in the mail yesterday. I had to lie in order to get it. The magazine is free, but in order to be on the mailing list, you have to be under a certain age. I hope my confession here absolves me of lying to Lego (but in no way hinders my continuing to get the magazine).

I am a Lego fan. I always have been. From a young age, I’ve known the pain from stepping on a Lego brick. My mom can attest to the annoyance of vacuuming up the smallest Lego pieces or the sound of me mixing through my collection in order to find the one correct piece. My wife will tell you that Lego sets still show up on every birthday list I write, and how we have a room that is difficult to use because of the Lego sets that I have set up there. You get the idea.

I bring this up because I wanted to talk about story inspiration. I’ve mentioned before that my writers’ group, The Weaklings, has participated in the 3-day Novel Contest every year since we started. For all but one year, I’ve started a new novel with each contest (this last year, I used the time to try to finish one of my novels). The first year, I wrote a dystopian story about a future where making sound is illegal. The next year, I started my magical orphan story about a boy who is half-angel. The third year, I didn’t know what to write.

My wife and I moved twice by the third year of marriage and we were still unpacking boxes. We came upon my large box of Lego sets and my wife encouraged me to put them back together and display them somewhere in the house. I took her up on the offer.

If you are familiar with Lego, you’ll know that they have different themes for their sets. Well, I had collected almost three complete themes by this point. My Lego collection includes Vikings, Kingdoms, and Adventure sets. The Viking sets have vikings, dragons, trolls and orcs. The Kingdoms sets revolve around English castles, kings, knights, wizards, and peasants. The Adventure sets feature an Indiana Jones-like assortment of 1920’s gear with biplanes, motorcycles, hot air balloons and more.

As I was setting up the sets, I was thinking that only two out of the three themes would look right together. Vikings and Kingdoms were historically near each other, but my Adventure sets would look vastly out-of-place. That’s when I got the idea for that year’s 3-day novel. I just needed to write a story to include all three elements.

The result was a time-traveler from the 1920’s who gets stuck in the year 1000, a year that inspired as much apocalyptic fear as the Y2K did recently. I did a little research and I was off.

My point in telling you all this is to share with you a source of story inspiration. Are you stuck for ideas? Try taking two things that would never naturally fit together, and stick them in the same room. See what happens.

Maybe it will click, like Lego.

I am a Weakling.

It I am a Weakling.probably started at a baseball game. Now, I’m not a big baseball fan, but when my mom asked whether my wife and I would like to join her at a Whitecaps game with her work, Cornerstone College, we came along. It was a good family outing.

As it happened, we sat next to the then-president of the college and his wife, with whom I struck up a conversation. I told her that I worked in the music department at a bookstore and she told me that her son, Andrew, was a musician who was moving back to the area and that he’d be looking for a music-related job. I promised her that I’d give him a call and try to connect him with something.

As promised, I called him. But rather than be all that helpful, I told him that Grand Rapids didn’t have a big recording industry and he’d be better off moving to somewhere like Nashville, the hub of all things music. He didn’t listen and moved to Grand Rapids anyway.

A month or two later, Andrew applied at the bookstore where I work. Remembering his name, and the promise to his mom that I’d try to help him find a job, I encouraged the management to give him a chance. He would have gotten the job anyway, but I like to take as much credit for other people’s accomplishments as possible.

We hit it off. Two weeks after he was hired, I asked him to help my wife and I move out of our apartment. Here’s a bit of truth for you: There is no better way to cement a friendship than to ask them to help you move. Andrew and his wife, Kristen, came over as strangers, but within a couple hours of seeing and packing our belongings, lifting heavy boxes, and maneuvering awkward pieces of furniture up stairs backwards, they emerged as friends.

While moving, we talked about our interests, and one of them was writing. Andrew mentioned that he and a guy named Bob were meeting for Bible study once every couple weeks and that he enjoyed writing as well. I was invited to Bible study and the three of us agreed that we should meet again solely to talk about our writing. Along the way, Bob ran into a guy named Matt, a writer friend from college, and invited him to the meeting.

The night we met, the Weaklings were born. Taking inspiration from the famous writers’ group, the Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, we formed our own writer’s group, the Weaklings. Matt had been part of the a few writers’ groups over the years and lent his experience and some structure to our meetings.

The early meeting ran along these lines: grab some refreshments – 5 minutes; chat about life – 10 minutes; read something we wrote since the last meeting – 5 minutes each; discuss what was read – 10 minutes each; discuss any writing challenges or goals – 10 minutes; schedule next meeting & leave.

We met at least once every two weeks, usually on the opposite week from Bible study. Inevitably, Andrew and I would discuss writing a lot at the bookstore where we worked (and continued to move furniture together). That encouragement and accountability helped make writing part of my routine.

Since those early days, Matt has  moved to the other side of the state, Bob has two kids, Andrew has one, and I have one with another on the way, but we all still make time for writing. And we all continue to encourage each other.

There is power in writers’ groups, and I am proud to say that I am a Weakling.